The Women’s Market
by Carolyn EllisMs. Ellis is Features Editor for Advisor Magazine and e-newsLink, our daily publication. Connect with her by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Mantell is the author of a What’s the Deal with Retirement Planning for Women, a how-to book that inspires and motivates women to be aggressive about retirement planning. From shoe shopping to learning the language of investments, Mantell speaks to women in no-nonsense yet compassionate terms. We talked with her about how financial advisors can be more responsive when working with women, and more effective as well, while helping them to take responsibility for their financial futures.
L&HA: How did you decide to reach out directly to women on the subject of retirement planning?
MM: After working with Fidelity Investments for ten years, I went out on my own, creating my current retirement business consultancy. I work with large financial institutions – banks, insurance companies, broker dealers and advisors – usually within their marketing or product development groups, to help them with marketing strategies around building retirement programs.
The other half of my business is direct to the consumer, getting the word out particularly for women about how to do a better job of preparing for retirement. Here I can get away from research and talk to real people, seeing the potential impact on their lives. I have the Retirement Management Analyst designation, but I’m not a financial advisor or insurance agent.
L&HA: In your new book, What’s the Deal with Retirement Planning for Women, two themes, “You can do it,” and “You have to do it,” come through loud and clear.
MM: Early in the book I compare preparing for retirement to running a marathon, in the preparation, training, and mental toughness required. It’s a daily grind and marathoners stay committed. I also understand the realities of women’s lives, and I weave essentials like shopping for shoes and buying something for the family into retirement planning.
L&HA: You also affirm women’s competence in juggling complex roles.
MM: Women’s multi-tasking through responsibilities to family, home and work is dismissed in our industry or not understood. That’s not okay, because we women then dismiss it. It’s like, “Oh, I just have to go make dinner while getting this kid to karate and that one to soccer and ironing my husband’s shirt, and sending back 17 emails for work,” and all of that done in 20 minutes! When we go into the financial world, there’s no acknowledgement. We have to overcome this cultural bias and our lack of financial knowledge because at the end of the day, we’re going to be left standing out in the cold.
So many women I talk to only got involved with their money when a crisis happened. They got a divorce or their husbands died, and money management was thrust upon them. If you can do Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram every night after dinner, you can find 15 minutes a day to play with money topics.
L&HA: You encourage women to begin with small steps and give themselves incentives.
MM: For myself I use the term bribes. For example, I’m saving to go to Scotland next Christmas with our grown kids. It’s a goal I hope we can reach. When I cook dinner at home and we don’t eat out, I pay myself $20. Over a month, one can amass a pretty hefty stash of money. Women can build a Freedom Fund by using the same program.
L&HA: What to do with one’s savings is tougher than putting the money aside. What’s the No. 1 thing women can do to improve their financial knowledge and comfort?
MM: The No. 1 thing women can do is read 15 minutes a day and talk about financial matters. Advisors can recommend this to their clients. Take the front page of The Wall Street Journal, read the news highlights in the left column, read the lead article, and if you’ve got time turn the page and read the top economic story. Learning financial language doesn’t come quickly but over time that knowledge builds up.
The second biggest thing is to talk about money. Often we meet with an advisor once a year, so that’s 364 days we’re ignoring our money. At home I hope my book will encourage women to start the conversation, “Hey, honey, you’ve got that account at Merrill Lynch, what are we doing with that money? How much do we have?”
L&HA: Reading your blog is one way women can become comfortable with thinking financial.
MM: My blog, BoomerRetirementBriefs.com, provides many resources. It has interesting stories agents can recommend to their clients about how other boomers are approaching retirement. Some stories are finance-oriented. Others are about a family investment club, an at-home dad, and ways individuals have remade their lives in retirement and found joy.
L&HA: What was the most important retirement advice you heard growing up?
MM: My dad was a tough, self-made man. In response to, “Oh, Dad, I really need this, or I really want that,” Dad often said no. We had to earn things. “No” is the most important word when it comes to money.
L&HA:Young adults today deal with student debt, low interest rates, easy access to credit cards, and high cost of living in popular cities. For real success with retirement savings, don’t women and girls have to start early in life?
MM: You’ve just described my older daughter. She’s a 24-year-old electrical engineer living in Silicon Valley, We helped her set up a budget and understand net take-home pay. She now has an elaborate Excel spreadsheet; she knows where every dollar is going. She’s paying back her student loans and saving solidly for retirement. If you’re an engineer, lawyer, physician, or consultant, you’re going to have enough money, but you have to budget and compromise.
If you’re a teacher, you have to be even more realistic about what you can afford. Some parents may be willing to help this younger generation get a start. Other parents can’t afford it or may not want to. For advisors, that’s an interesting conversation to have with financially-able clients.
L&HA: Advisors tell me they counsel some clients have to discontinue financial support to children or grandchildren to meet their own retirement needs.
MM: That can be a tough conversation. When I train advisors, I often tell them that a large role they will play is as mediator or marriage counselor because spouses can think very differently about the same dollars.
L&HA: It’s one thing not to spend $20 and put it into savings, but it’s harder to know where to put savings for long-term growth.
MM: The investing piece is challenging. Working with an insurance agent or advisor is important, especially if you don’t have a foundation in how the equity or bond markets work. Advisors can help clients understand that you can lose money on paper and ride out the market’s ups and downs. I tell women never be afraid to get a second opinion. Get online. Big financial firms like Vanguard, T Rowe, or Fidelity have amazing educational resources. We’re all busy, but we have to carve out the time.
Get a pizza tonight, and sit down and go through the links your advisor sent. To women and men both I say, “Participate, don’t abdicate.” ◊